'Inside Out': Revisiting the British Comic Strip With a Similar Concept

Five decades before the latest Pixar hit, a U.K. comic strip had a very similar idea.
Malcolm Judge/DC Thomson

Pixar's Inside Out is a movie that features a concept so clear and concise — that, inside each of our heads, there's a team of individuals working together to keep us working — that it feels as if it's been around for years, if not longer. And, as it turns out, it has.

To generations of British kids, Inside Out was immediately recognizable as an alternate take on The Numskulls, a long-running comic strip that ran in the pages of a number of British comic book anthologies from publisher D.C. Thomson (No relation to America's DC Entertainment). Like Inside Out, The Numskulls focused on a group living inside the head of an average human — originally an adult male, although that was changed to a younger boy midway through the run — that kept the body running. Unlike Inside Out, the Numskulls were responsible for more than just the emotional wellbeing of their owner.

The Numskulls first appeared in The Beezer in 1962, created by Scottish cartoonist Malcolm Judge. The basic concept of the strip was to treat the human body as a machine that required upkeep, which was handled by a number of different departments, complete with its own staff; there was the Brain Dept., Eye Dept., Ear Dept., Nose Dept. and Mouth Dept., each staffed by figures with oversized heads and stick-figure bodies. (The characters' names corresponded to their departments; Luggy worked in the Ear Dept., while Blinky controlled the eyes, and so on.)

Judge worked on the strip until his death in 1989, with the exception of a five-year stretch by cartoonist Tom Lavery; new artists John Dallas and, later, Steve Bright inherited the series, which ran until Beezer — at that point, merged with a second title to become The Beezer and Topper — was cancelled in 1992, before being moved to The Beano, one of the longest-running children's comics in the United Kingdom the following year, under the pen of cartoonist Tom Paterson.

With the shift to The Beano, the strip underwent an overhaul; the individual Numskulls were each given new looks (and, in some cases, new names — Luggy became Radar, for example, and Nosey became Snitch; the two Numskulls who'd previously managed the Mouth Dept. were replaced entirely by a new character called Cruncher), and the child whose head they inhabited finally gained a name, after decades: Edd.

Despite online proclamations and paranoia, however, it's unlikely that Inside Out has plagiarized The Numskulls in any real way. While both share an intended audience demographic and high concept, the two are very different in terms of execution and ultimate intent; The Numskulls was never quite as heartwarming nor intent on making a statement about the need for emotional intelligence.

More importantly, there's a world of difference between an inept corporate structure maintain a human body and a group of entities personifying specific emotions (For a closer inspiration for Inside Out, look no further than 1990s Fox sitcom Herman's Head). If anything, D.C. Thomson should be grateful to Pixar for Inside Out raising the profile of The Numskulls.

Who knows? If the movie's a hit, maybe one day there'll be a Numskulls movie all on its own — as long as the Brain Dept. gets the right messages from the Eye Dept., of course.

comments powered by Disqus